Breathe Life into Your Ghosts... Literally: How to Capture DIY Hologram FX the Practical Way

Did anyone else lose complete emotional control of themselves when they saw the Tupac "hologram" perform at Coachella? Just me? Okay. One of the coolest things about that performance was the fact that it wasn't actually a hologram -- it was a reflection. In fact, the process used to resurrect the legendary hip-hop artist can be done easily in your backyard. The master of DIY practical effects, Joey Shanks, brings us another excellent tutorial on how to create the illusion of a hologram using projectors, mirrors, glass, fog, mist, even your own breath by implementing simple techniques -- one of which is hundreds of years old.

Finding a reason to put a hologram in your movie isn't the problem -- finding out how to pull off the effect, however, is, and I'm coming to find that my favorite place to learn how to achieve these practical effects is in Joey Shanks' garage. Of course, making a hologram illusion isn't as simple as throwing up some mirrors and windows and turning on a few lights, however, if you already have the animation you want to project, it can be.

The main things you'll need to get your hands on are a projector, some lights, and a conduit -- be it a mirror, window, mist, or steam -- for the projected image to pass through. In the video below, Shanks creates a suspended rig to distribute mist/vapor in order to capture the projection. He also (quite brilliantly) uses a handheld clothes steamer.

So, check out the video below to find out how to create your own hologram illusions.

One of the techniques Shanks uses in the video above is called Pepper's Ghost. This method has been used to create the illusion of ghosts, ghouls, and other see-through things for hundreds of years. Some think it was used as early as the 16th century, which is astounding considering that it's still used today in theme parks, museum exhibits, and even in films, though now with powerful post production software, like After Effects, these illusions can be made after the cameras have finished rolling.

However, if you love in-camera effects and want to know how to pull off a small-scale Pepper's Ghost, there are tons of tutorials online. Here's one that I thought explained the process pretty well.

The technique I personally found the most interesting was the use of steam, fog, or mist to capture the illusion of a hologram. Considering the unpredictable nature of these elements, your hologram is probably not going to look perfect, or even be able to sustain its pre-designed form for very long. But, maybe that's what you're looking for -- a more organic, free-flowing, anti-CGI, hey-I'm-from-a-hippie-town-can-you-tell kind of look.

One amazing example that came to mind that uses this technique is a music video for the band Travis' single "Moving". Directors Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth created small "holograms" not by using mist, fog, or steam -- well, not in the way Shanks uses steam anyway. No, these directors dropped the temperature of the set down to below freezing, and used the steamy breath of the band members to hold the projections. It's absolutely amazing. Check out the music video below.

And here's a little behind the scenes of the Travis music video.

Have you ever created a hologram illusion before? What technique worked for you? Let us know in the comments below.


You Might Also Like

Your Comment


I love this guy.

May 10, 2014 at 3:48PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Regarding the headline:

Renee, as a writer, you should know this is a classic example of "literal" misuse. Please stop using the word until you understand what it "literally" means.

Work with me people. The devil is in the details.

May 10, 2014 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


You sir, are literally a troll. And I just one-upped you. TROLL POINTS!

May 10, 2014 at 7:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

You voted '-1'.

It's about ideas. That's what I love about nofilmschool and it's contributors. Their passion and curiosity. I'm not quite sure what playing the grammatical school marm is doing to add to the conversation.

May 11, 2014 at 1:17AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


*its, for the troll points.

May 11, 2014 at 1:19AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Actually, it is 'It's'.

May 15, 2014 at 8:22AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Filmmakers define themselves as communicators,most of them freaking out if every technical detail isn't exactly right. So why not follow through to spelling and grammar?

May 11, 2014 at 5:11AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Billy Barber

Actually, 'literally' is used correctly here. What is literal is the breath. Actual, rather than metaphorical, breath can used to make this effect. The expression "breathing life into" something is used figuratively all the time, but here we have literal breath, albeit just the effect of life.

The battle to make people use literally correctly is important, but here the poster was was off.

But to those of you whose gifts are more visual than verbal, keep on keepin' on I say.



English teacher/fillmmaker

May 11, 2014 at 2:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Richard Conolly


May 12, 2014 at 8:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Literally is correctly used here, what are you talking about. Further more would you even bring this up? To show how much smarter you are than everyone else? Well it didn't work.

May 16, 2014 at 1:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Holomatrix is a pretty useful tool too.

May 11, 2014 at 1:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


nice post this guy is very creative

May 11, 2014 at 2:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


neat and usefull

May 17, 2014 at 6:55AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

emilio murillo

Very interesting, I never knew how this was done.

June 7, 2014 at 5:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM